Rethink Church

Clashes, Kids and Community

You're valued here. You're needed. You have a special role to play, and without your contribution, we aren't all that we could or should be. We're working toward a common goal, and that goal is to the benefit of all. We're totally here to support you, so call on us whenever you need us.

Oh, who are we? We're your allies in Clash of Clans … or Mobile Strike … or Star Wars: Commander, Boom Beach, Age of Empires … or whatever Massively Multiplayer Online Game that has laid claim to the liminal moments of your (or, actually, my) day.

There's a consistent feature in many popular online mobile games like Clash of Clans: Players band together into clans, squads or teams. These groups are highly supportive and encourage a large degree of accountability. Group members are diverse, but united by common focus. Players will be supported in these groups, and they are expected to do what they can to support others. That is how the group succeeds.

There is an implicit ethos within these groups: You are valued, our bond means something, we serve one another, we are part of something bigger. It's idyllic.

A lot of us retreat to games because they offer us something not readily available or accessible in real life. Games can offer control, power, freedom, even community. It's a shame that the communities described above are often recreational retreats and not more common experiences.

As a parent, I wish for my child to know these types of communities. Many of us do, which is partially what makes team sports or other group activities for children so popular. They offer the opportunity for children to experience some of the features of ideal community: support, accountability, shared focus. These are not the explicit goals of most, however.

We enroll our children in team sports or other team-based activities because we understand that, at young ages in particular, community informs identity. The kinds of communities we expose our children to partially shape how our kids see themselves. We want our children to understand that they are valuable enough to be supported and held accountable. We want them to understand the importance of supporting others. We want them to feel that they are a part of something larger than themselves.

So it's logical and helpful to ask some clarifying questions: What communities are informing me and my children? How are the communities in which my children are involved shaping their identities?

If spirituality is important to me, how is it involved in my kids' formative communities?

For a decade and a half, I served as a youth group leader for United Methodist churches. We kicked off every school year with a parents' meeting. During these meetings, I asked our parents, "Who are you?" Most adults have a pocketful of answers for this question: They are professionals and husbands or wives, they are sports or travel enthusiasts. They are musicians, artists or craft beer lovers. Some are gamers.

But, if you ask a child who they are, they have hard a time answering. Ironically, the older a child gets, the more difficulty they tend to have. Young people are still in the process of identity formation.

So, as a community, we had a clear role in the lives of the students we got to work with: Help them uncover a robust, healthy, God-inspired identity. The key to this was really to help students understand one thing: They are beloved children of God. And to do so, we found that our community values were quite similar to the communities experienced in Clash of Clans. We sought to let students know that they were valued, that they had a role a play, that their offerings to the group were valued and that we were united in a common goal. For us, that goal was nothing short of interrupting the broken cycles of the world (we thought big!).

Our goals are implicitly shared by many faith communities. When we reach after these goals, there are certain lessons learned: I am beloved. Relationships are sacred. Service has value. We are part of something bigger.

I wish we had always gotten it right — that we had communicated equally to each student how valuable they are. We missed the mark at times. Sometimes the community will disappoint. I suppose that's part of the learning experience, too. And even if we fell short on teaching all of our lessons, learning a part of them shaped students in important ways. For we know that those who feel valued, value others and are willing to serve for the sake of something bigger are more resilient in the face of adversity and generally more content in life.

That is something we wish for ourselves, and undoubtedly will for our children.

Rethink Church hopes to provide a healthy community of support. Even more so, Rethink Church aspires to be an entry point into deeper communities. Some communities are detailed in our "Innovative Communities" section. Some pop up in online discussions. Others you can find through our "Find-a-Church" feature.

The beginning of a new school year presents opportunities to enter into new communities of formation. It is a great time to assess how our children's communities are informing their identities. What communities inform your kids? In what ways do these communities inform them?

Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan serves as the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church.